General, writing

Setting Small Goals

I mentioned in my June Recap post that I was lucky enough to spend some time away from home in a sort of personal retreat. I enjoyed my time away and it was productive as well. Unfortunately I forgot until my last day that July was also Camp NaNoWriMo. That, combined with the fact I did get quite a bit done in just a couple of weeks got me to thinking about goals and how they can help or hinder reaching milestones.

One of the biggest things about setting a goal is that you have to be specific. Just saying ‘I want to write a book’ sounds great, but it’s vague. Books come in many different sizes and with a lot of different needs. Saying ‘I want to write a children’s book’ gets more specific, because now you’ve set your finish line. You know at the end of it, you’ll have a children’s book written. Saying ‘I want to write a children’s book by the end of the year’ is even better still, because now you’ve defined both what you’re working on and when you want it. The specifics make it easier to measure how well you’re progressing on that goal.

The big goal is where a lot of hang-ups happen. Regardless of the size of the book, they all take work. This might be a tiny children’s book, or an epic sci-fi tome. And that’s where the hindrance of a goal can come in. Having a vague or oversized goal makes the task seem daunting. You can prevent this however, by breaking it down into smaller goals.

Taking an example of the standard NaNoWriMo goal here: 50,000 words is a lot. It’s not something most people can write in a day, and there are a large number of people who can’t get that done in a month. It’s a massive goal, which is what makes the NaNo challenge great.

The bad news is, that it is a massive goal, and that makes tackling it seem unreasonable. Even knowing the daily goal is only 1,667 words, it still seems huge, which is where smaller goals and checkpoints come in handy. If you’re going weekly, that 50k finish line means you only need to write 12,500 words a week, over four weeks. To make 1,600 words a day, you need roughly 53 minutes of writing at a typing speed of 30 words per minute. 53 sounds a heck of lot smaller than 1,600 but it will get you there. If you only manage to write 5 days a week at exactly 1600 words, that’s still 8,000 words. The little goals add up.

Some goals however, can’t be broken down by the number, but might need you to break them down into steps. Perhaps you want to publish a book. Again, make sure you’re specific. Do you want to traditionally publish or self-publish? If you choose traditional, you may not be able to set a specific deadline for when it’s published—there is a lot of behind the scene works that can take years to set up. You can however, set smaller goals such as researching x number of agencies or publishing houses a week, sending a certain number of queries a month, or if you’d like to try pitch contests.

For self-publishing, there’s innumerable steps to the process. Editing, cover design, publishing options, marketing and pre-launch campaigns. By themselves, getting one or two things done a month may not seem like a huge step, but it will move you very quickly towards that deadline.

Whenever you come across a goal you want to set, ask yourself two questions.

  1. Am I being specific enough? A specific goal gives you structure to work from, which can guide you from one step to the next.
  2. Is this the smallest I can make this goal? Remember it’s far easier to meet and exceed a small goal than it is to struggle with an oversized one.

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